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One of the oldest sustainability certification programs is facing a lawsuit in Canada. This article from environmental activist organization NRDC discusses an action filed against the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI):

In a recent complaint filed by environmental law non-profit Ecojustice with the Competition Bureau of Canada, eight environmental organizations, including Greenpeace Canada and the David Suzuki Foundation, are requesting an investigation into SFI’s dubious claims about its sustainable forestry certification scheme. The complaint reiterates long-held concerns from civil society organizations in both Canada and the U.S. that SFI’s requirements are vague and discretionary, essentially allowing for industrial logging operations in old-growth forests and threatened and endangered species habitat to be promoted as “sustainable” and even climate-friendly. 

The complaint makes the case that because SFI’s sustainability claims are both untrue and made with the purpose of promoting the adoption of its Standard and the purchase of wood and wood products certified by SFI, they violate the Competition Act which provides a civil prohibition against false or misleading representations. Moreover, the complaint asserts that SFI’s misleading claims ‘have contributed and continue to contribute to unsustainable logging globally and in Canada on an immense scale.’

As the article points out, this is not only a concern for the SFI itself, but also could spell trouble for companies relying on the certification as a basis for at least some of their sustainability achievements:

Increasingly, this is not only an issue of failing to protect forests and consumers, it’s spelling trouble for the companies relying on SFI’s standards themselves. Just recently, an NRDC complaint to the Securities and Exchange Commission questioned a characterization by Procter & Gamble that SFI, among other wood pulp certifiers, guarantees the elimination of forest degradation, despite clear evidence to the contrary. 

I’m not too surprised – every sustainability/ESG certification framework is being scrutinized like never before. Just last month I wrote about another major framework used by the apparel industry. I doubt this train is going to stop soon. It would be worth considering doing your own due diligence and/or risk assessment on sustainability certifications you currently rely on. The downside is that you might not like what you find – or the credibility risk might now be too high for comfort. You should prepare for such an outcome and begin investigating alternatives even before embarking on this kind of assessment/due diligence. It wouldn’t be wise to continue using a “solution” that you know isn’t good enough.

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The Editor

Lawrence Heim has been practicing in the field of ESG management for almost 40 years. He began his career as a legal assistant in the Environmental Practice of Vinson & Elkins working for a partner who is nationally recognized and an adjunct professor of environmental law at the University of Texas Law School. He moved into technical environmental consulting with ENSR Consulting & Engineering at the height of environmental regulatory development, working across a range of disciplines. He was one… View Profile